Posted on April 5, 2012 at 12:00 am
For prices and pictures, click here for our post-launch article
Sorry we can’t show you any clear exterior shots as Proton did not allow any photography at the media preview
so we have to use this picture taken of the camouflaged car shown at the ‘Power of 1′
“You’ll be amazed!“; "You’ll be surprised…” was what John D. Chacko (Proton’s Director of Group Marketing, Branding and Motorsports) kept telling me whenever we met and talked about Proton’s new sedan, internally designated ‘P3-21A’ and now known to be called ‘Preve’ (pronounced ‘Pray-vay’). No offence to John but he’s a newcomer to the car industry and not a ‘car man’ as such so I regarded his enthusiasm as being the usual ‘PR-speak’. And of course, Proton’s Advisor also wrote a bit about his personal experience behind the wheel and was very impressed and proud – but would you expect him to say otherwise?
After taking a drive in two versions of the Preve over 160 kms, I have to say that I too share their enthusiasm because this Proton is like no other Proton before (the ones developed by Proton themselves). It can be considered as one of those milestone models that marks the ascent to a higher level. The big push has been vital as Proton cannot survive just being a ‘jaguh kampung’ (village hero) because, firstly, the ‘village’ can only buy so many cars from the company and secondly, the market is opening up and more competitors are coming in.
|DSZ explaining the meaning of ‘Preve’ , the
name for the new model. To read what’s on
the slide, click on the image for a larger view.
So Proton has to be serious about selling in other countries and while it has been exporting since 1987, its focus has been on the home market all this while. And because the focus was on the home market, the way the cars were designed and equipped were not necessarily suitable as ‘world cars’. That made it challenging to sell Protons in Europe and Australia, which are more mature markets where Proton has no privileged status, let alone expect preferential treatment. To have its products accepted, they must be truly world-class and that was the challenge in developing the Preve when the project began in 2009.
Like any carmaker today, there’s a need to rationalize not just the product lines but also the platforms. It’s no longer like the 1960s or 1970s when a company could have seven models on seven different platforms; that’s too extravagant and can’t achieve profitable economies of scale even for the biggest players. Today, the trick is to have the minimum number of platforms – which cost a lot to develop – and then try to create many different products on them. MINI seems to be going crazy doing that…
The number of platforms is largely dependent on the size of the company and in Proton’s case, two is the realistic number. From two platforms, Proton expects to be able to offer up to six models and the first platform is being used for the Exora and the Preve sedan (and possibly a hatchback later on), while the second platform is for a smaller model.
The Preve’s platform is similar to that of the Exora for the front half (including the hydro-formed subframe) but has a different rear suspension which is a multi-link set-up (the Exora has a torsion beam) that is better for a sedan. And after 15 years, Proton’s R&D guys have gained lots and lots of experience in tuning the chassis that they can confidently boast of ‘Proton Ride & Handling’, instead of ‘Lotus Ride & Handling’. This aspect has always been the strong point of Protons from the Satria GTI onwards but ‘Lotus’ has been used. ‘Proton R&H’ is essentially the same as ‘Lotus R&H’ since it has the same DNA.
Click here for our first driving impressions of the Preve
The tyres are imported from Indonesia and this was a point which raised questions since there are tyre factories of global leaders like Goodyear in Malaysia
. The reason given was that the specification called for low rolling resistance tyres and this meant that the tyres had to have a high silica element in their compound. No tyre factory in Malaysia has the process for silica compounds so it was not possible for Proton to source from Malaysia, hence importing the tyres. Cost-wise, it doesn’t make much difference since AFTA provisions have eliminated import duty.
|Preve is second model to use the 1.6-litre CAMPRO CFE engine with turbocharger
As for powertrains, the Preve uses two versions of its own CAMPRO 1.6-litre engine – the IAFM version and the CFE version which is used in the Exora Bold. The IAFM engine powers the cheapest version which has a 5-speed manual transmission and also the middle version which has a 7-speed CVT that is called the 7-Speed PROTRONIC transmission. The premium top of the line version has the CFE engine which is turbocharged and mated to only a 7-Speeed PROTRONIC transmission, but with the option of manual selection and paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
|Two versions of Preve have CVTs (inset
shows the 1.6-litre CAMPRO IAFM engine)
The engine outputs are the same as what you get from the same engines in the Saga FLX, Persona and Exora but they have been tuned a bit differently to take into account the weight of the Preve. An engineer also revealed that the tuning strategy for the new model was aimed at making acceleration more refined and smoother. This required a lot of work to achieve the right balance since younger drivers like a strong surge whenever they move off while older drivers prefer a smoother less aggressive start.
To be world-class also means being able to get maximum stars in the EuroNCAP crash tests which many consumers pay attention to. EuroNCAP is not the only standard (and it is not a government one) but it is widely publicized so all manufacturers use its criteria during their development work on structural design. So far, the only Proton that has been tested by EuroNCAP has been a European version of the Waja which scored 3/5 stars many years ago.
The Preve will likely be tested at some point but in any case, Proton has engineered it to be able to score 5/5 stars based on today’s criteria. They have done their own crash-testing in Spain and are confident they can get those 5 stars. What has helped in giving the Preve the strength is RESS – Reinforced Safety Structure – which is the name Proton has given to its structure (other companies have names like G-CON, RISE, GOA, etc). RESS is stronger than any previous Proton’s structure because it has 12 parts which have been made employing Hot Press Forming (HPF) technology. HPF produces stronger parts without a weight penalty, enhancing rigidity which is good for handling as well as collision protection.
Supplementary protection is provided by up to four airbags – two frontal and one each on the side of each front backrest. There’s provision for window airbags as well but at the moment, Proton is not offering them on any version. The side airbags in the seats will could be an issue for those who want to have leather upholstery. Normally, people would take their car to a shop and have the upholstery changed to leather, a straightforward process. With the Preve, this can’t be done since the airbags and associated hardware are integrated in the seats and not in the door panels. So apart from Proton salesmen having to stress this to customers, the company will also need to offer leather seats as an option. By the way, the fabric upholstery has a water-repellant capability.
It’s a bit surprising to find that the front seatbelt upper anchorage points are not adjustable, a norm in even cheaper models these days. Presumably, it’s to do with cost-saving and while it’s not a major issue, it is something that Proton should have provided. The panel around the upper anchorage point is rather large so it may be possible to include an adjustable mount later on. ISFIX points are provided for easy and secure installation of compatible childseats.
For Active Safety, there are the usual systems in the brakes – front and rear discs, which has been one of the strong points in Protons – like ABS, EBD, etc.
For the first time, traction control and electronic stability control are also available (in the top version). Actually, these safety features were hinted at when the Waja came out 10 years ago but are only now appearing in a Proton model.
Other safety features which are also provided include automatic activation of the hazard warning lights if the driver brakes suddenly (and very hard) while the car is running above 96 km/h. This will alert following drivers earlier and could prevent a collision. If there is a major collision, the doors will automatically be unlocked so that rescuers can get to the occupants if they are dazed or knocked out. The front head restraints are also the ‘active’ type which will reduce whiplash injuries during a severe rear-end collision.
Now that we’ve told you about the technical aspects, we have to describe to you the exterior design since Proton did not allow any pictures to be taken during our special preview drive and the ones they have supplied for use with articles only show specific areas.
|Nose of the Preve has entirely new styling direction, Note the notch in the middle, a feature which was on a Waja prototype in 2000 (below right) but was dropped from the production model when it was not well accepted
Starting with the front, there is a new design language which is said to be an evolution of what we’ve seen since the Gen2. The Proton badge is flanked by ’wings’ which will be a common element and interestingly, the bumper has a notch below the point of the badge.
This feature was in the original prototype of the Waja in 2000 (a series of images was later known to have been deliberately leaked by Proton’s R&D themselves to gauge public reaction to the feature… no wonder no one got arrested for showing them! Unlike the Gen2 pictures.). When public comments suggested it was not appealing, the notch was removed and the top of the bumper left flat.
Now it appears that Proton’s stylists are using that feature again and it’s a sign of their confidence that they are willing to go ahead with it this time.
Literally eye-catching are the headlights with LED position lights running along the lower portion of each unit. This gives the Preve distinctiveness and some effort has also gone into the detail of the projector lamps. As with other models, there’s a hint of an ‘eyebrow’ over the lamps which stylists seem to like incorporating these days.
The profile of the car is certainly more assertive than the Persona and though the Preve was thought to be a successor to the Persona, Proton’s Group MD, Dato’ Sri Syed Zainal (DSZ) said it was never the case and the public had the wrong idea. From the start, the idea was to develop a global car and it was to be positioned between the Persona and the Inspira, so the dimensions were chosen accordingly.
The door handles are now the grab-type and there was some internal debate about whether these modern handles should be fitted or the old-fashioned lift-type continue to be used. Apparently, a very influential party preferred the lift-type, perhaps because it looks cleaner. But there’s no denying that having the grab-type gives the car that little bit more class.
The C-pillar is a bit oddly finished with a black trim panel to fill a space between the glass and the pillar. It’s something like the Mazda3 sedan except that the Mazda doesn’t have the panel. The concern expressed by some journalists was that there will be the inevitable problem of polish getting onto the panel and because it is textured, it will be hard to clean off. The panel has a depression so it is possible that some sort of decorative cover will be attached to it in some versions.
The rear end of the car has a short deck and is generally clean in appearance. In some areas, there are character lines which suggest that there will be some other body options added, and DSZ confirmed that there are already special versions planned for future introduction.
The first time anyone opens the doors and looks inside the Preve will likely bring on the feeling that it is really a new kind of Proton. The interior design theme, the textures and overall appearance all give an ambience of high quality. There’s a nice balance of bright trim and dark shades but the wood finish is rather slick. It’s not as bad as the one in the Perdana at one time but maybe a less polished finish would be nicer.
It’s always nice to find a new model where the stylists have not tried to be different for the sake of being different. You won’t find a handbrake lever with a sword handle and the auxiliary power socket is given a simple cap that won’t break (though it might get lost after some time). A USB port is tucked into a recess ahead of the shifter and there’s a sliding cover.
The interior designers at both Proton (and Perodua) know that if there is no teh tarik hook, this writer will highlight the omission and it is said that DSZ himself reminded them ‘so that Chips Yap won’t complain about not having a teh tarik hook’! There is one at the front, located against the panel on the right side of the front occupant’s leg. It folds away when not in use for safety. There is also another hook under the passenger’s head restraint and on the upper part of the window frame of each rear door is a small hook. This is something the Europeans like to have for their jacket, so it shows that Proton does think more about the needs of customers in other markets.
The dashboard panel is neat and simple though the instrument panel is rather bland and lacking depth. Also, the use of amber graphics on a black background may not be the best choice as some people may have difficulty making out the displays in certain lighting conditions. In between the speedometer and tachometer is a Smart Info Display which can show many different types of information.
The steering wheel has buttons to control the audio system and bluetooth connectivity. On the top version, there are also paddle shifters to manually select gear ‘positions’ in the CVT. The right paddle is for upshifts and the left one is to downshift. The paddles are connected with the steering wheel instead of the steering column, so they move as the steering wheel rotates. They’re not made of magnesium (unlike the Inspira’s) but they have a nice feel and are well shaped for easy operation by people with long and short fingers. Oh and by the way, there’s also a Start/Stop button in the top version.
The rear area is very generous and Proton claims that it has the best legroom in its class. The boot compartment is also fairly large with a 508-litre volume.
This description of the Preve has been prepared with minimal printed information and much of it is based on whatever could be seen and felt during the exclusive media preview yesterday. There may be some other stuff which has not been mentioned simply because we were not told and in fact, DSZ hinted at something special which will be revealed at the launch on April 16
The car will be launched in Indonesia and Thailand later this year and a left-hand drive variant will also be available, targeted at the Middle East market and possibly the Philippines and Vietnam. Eventually, Proton expects to export at least 20% of the 4,000 units it will make monthly.
Now, click here
to find out what it’s like driving the Preve.
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